February Storms Increase Washington Snowpack to Near Normal Levels
Scott Pattee, NRCS Water Supply Specialist
SPOKANE, WA (March 11, 2014) – February saw two – three times normal snowfall, putting Washington State snowpack at near normal levels according to data from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in its third 2014 forecast.
Well above average precipitation along with cooler than normal temperatures brought much needed relief to both the mountain snowpack and soil moisture in the valleys. Forecasts for spring and summer runoff have increased dramatically over last month as well.
In February, the National Weather Service and NRCS climate stations reported a higher probability of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, and long-term predictions also indicate a chance of above normal temperatures but uncertainty on precipitation.
“Unfortunately too much of a good thing can also lead to problems such as traffic jams, high avalanche danger, localized flooding and landslides,” said NRCS Water Supply Specialist, Scott Pattee.
Seasonal reservoir levels in Washington can vary greatly due to specific watershed management practices required in preparation for irrigation season, fisheries management, power generation, municipal demands and flood control. For the most part, reservoir storage remained pretty static from the February forecast.
Streamflow forecasts vary from 65 percent of average for the Colville River at Kettle Falls to 124 percent of average for the Okanogan River at Malott. However, April – September streamflow forecasts predict most rivers will remain near normal levels based on the 30-year average.
NRCS’ streamflow forecasts are one of the tools used to predict drought. They provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply. Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. NRCS scientists analyze the snowpack, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.
USDA is partnering with Western states to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture. The Department is also co-leading the National Drought Resilience Partnership, comprised of seven federal agencies collaborating to provide short- and long-term assistance to help states and communities plan for or respond to drought.
Since 1939, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Since the late 1970s, NRCS has been installing, operating and maintaining an extensive, high-elevation automated system called SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the western U.S. and Alaska.
View the March Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast map or view information by state.
Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit USDA Disaster and Drought Information. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS website.
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